The HD Odyssey: HD Camera Buyers’ Guide, Part II

By Carolyn Braff
When transitioning a college athletic department’s video operations from standard-definition to high-definition, camera and lens decisions may not be the first that a video director makes, but they can be the most important. After all, the camera — and its accompanying lens — is the medium through which the high-definition image must travel, so no matter the quality of the rest of the control-room equipment, if the picture is distorted in a low-quality camera, the effort is lost.
To assist in this decision, SVG-U has polled representatives from seven major camera and lens manufacturers to find out what questions every video coordinator should ask before jumping into the world of HD, and we’ve compiled some of their product suggestions as well. This week’s edition offers advice from Canon, JVC, Sony, and Fujinon.
For information from Thomson, Ikegami, and Panasonic in last week’s edition, click here.
How Do I Want To Acquire and Archive My Content?
Deciding ahead of time what type of acquisition and archive format the video department plans to adopt will help narrow the camera search considerably.
“Tape has been a popular format, but everyone is shifting over to tapeless solutions,” explains Ben Thomas, marketing supervisor for Canon’s consumer imaging group. “It’s an easier way of acquiring your media.”
Optical disc, hard-disk drive, and flash memory all have their pros and cons, but all digital formats provide instant access, an immediate advantage over tape-based workflows.
“The most important part of the solution is instantaneous access,” explains Bob Ott, VP of optical and network systems for Sony Electronics. “With optical disc, for example, if there’s a Hail Mary play that they want right away, instead of having to rack through the tape, they can grab the clip instantaneously.”
Digital solutions use reusable media, so while up-front investments are higher, media costs (and required storage space) are reduced in the long run.
“With optical disc, you can dump all the media onto tape if you want to (and the tape costs are a lot less) or access it from the disk with complete random access,” Ott explains. “The versatility of the format is phenomenal.”
Because flash memory does not require any moving parts, such as the spinning wheels of tape or the lasers of optical, it requires less space than a hard-disk-drive camcorder, so the flash-based cameras are some of the smallest available. Flash memory is also solid state, so it’s shock-resistant, but all of its advantages come at a price.
“Flash memory is a better option, but it has some limitations because of the expense,” Thomas says. “It costs $6-$8 per gigabyte, whereas a hard disk costs about 6¢ per gigabyte. The overall usage of the camcorder will be a lot easier using flash memory.”
Says Domenic Cicchetti, education business development manager for Panasonic, “Among college video coordinators, there is a real trend toward P2 because of faster ingest times and rugged reliability.” Panasonic’s P2 recording system relies on solid-state memory cards, which are durable in low temperatures and high humidity and compatible with a variety of editing systems. “For a very moderately priced camera, P2 gives a great image.”
Is a Built-In Lens Good Enough, Or Should I Buy a Separate Lens?
Choosing between a camera with a built-in lens and one that requires an exterior lens is tricky, especially if the camera will be used in a variety of situations.
“In different applications, you’re going to need different lenses or a larger zoom lens,” explains Mark Chiolis, senior marketing manager for Thomson Grass Valley. “If you’re shooting football, soccer, or field hockey, you may need a longer throw on the lens than you would if you’re shooting basketball or doing interviews.”
Fixed-lens cameras can electronically correct for optical flaws, so while the videographer has less control over the image, that might be preferable in a college setting — especially if students are working the cameras.
“With the fixed lens, you also get image stabilization and auto-focus capability, so if you have a videographer who’s not that seasoned, you have a range of compensation for error,” explains Craig Yanagi, national marketing manager of creation products for JVC. “You’re pretty much fixed as to the range of the glass that’s on the camera, albeit the glass that’s available on some of the high-end fixed-lens camcorders is getting very, very good.”
While budgets are never easy, if there is room to splurge on a single piece of equipment, a lens might be the place to do it.
“The lens is critical to sports of any sort; your quality starts with the lens,” explains Larry Thorpe, national marketing executive for Canon. “The better the image coming out of the lens, the better the camera’s going to treat it, and that goes right through the system, so the lens is a pretty solid investment.”
If the choice is made to go with a separate lens, the lens quality must match that of the camera, or the investment is worthless.
“Once you get a camera with a detachable lens, then you’re highly dependent on the cost of the lens,” Ott explains. “If you put a $3,000 lens on a $10,000 camera, then you’re going to have a $3,000 image, not a $10,000 one.”
Can I Test The Equipment?
Before settling on a new camera-and-lens complement to outfit a new HD control room, be sure to test the equipment, see if it works with the existing setup, then test it again.
“The best thing to do is narrow it down to a few choices and then bring them into their venue, their field, and do some tests,” Thorpe explains. “Make sure both the technical and the production people are happy. The broadcast networks test the daylights out of these cameras, and, as you go down to the lower end, testing can be very important, particularly if you’re going for low-cost equipment. When you’re shopping based on brochures and pricing, you have to make sure there are no surprises.”